The “Triumphant Kingdom” Assemblies of 1955
Paris, France, August 3-7, 1955
To crown a successful year of Kingdom service in the field of witnessing in France, along came the second international assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Paris during the closing month of the 1955 service year. In the world-wide campaign month of April when the Memorial of Christ’s death was celebrated and the new booklet (Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”?) was released, the 183 congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in France attained a new peak in number of Kingdom publishers, namely, 9,883, which bespeaks an increase of 23 percent over the previous service year. And at the Memorial celebration, although only 225 partook of the emblematic bread and wine, there was a total attendance of 11,894. All of these were now to play host to the assembly of their brothers from the most lands ever to be represented at such a gathering in Paris. In Paris and its suburbs there are about 2,500 witnesses. A record attendance was expected, and the organization at Paris of the New World society made ready for it. French missionaries graduated from Gilead, French pioneers and congregation publishers engaged for many weeks in securing rooms in hotels and private homes to fill the many rooming-accommodations requests.
Paris’ great indoor arena, the Velodrome d’Hiver or Sports Palace, was engaged for the assembly. Four years ago the first international postwar convention of Jehovah’s witnesses in France was held in this same Palais des Sports, and at that time 10,456 attended the public meeting and 351 were baptized, in the meantime the organizational magazine, The Watchtower, in all languages came under ban in France. However, the eternal God, Jehovah, who has made his people a watchman class, continued to feed his people spiritually, and they have grown in spiritual maturity and in numbers in that land of Roman Catholicism and communism. From the Paris branch office it is just a fifteen-minute walk down the Rue de la Tour (Tower Street) and across Passy Bridge over the Seine River and one square beyond Grenelle Quay to the Sports Palace. Just three blocks to the north the 1,000-foot-high world-famed Eiffel Tower rears itself.
Besides the thousands of foreign delegates who converged here, a special train with 1,200 Polish brothers from the northeast of France pulled into the city. Because of the dominant languages to be spoken at this assembly the printed program carried its “Information for Conventioners” in French, English and Polish, and signs of welcome and guidance around the Sports Palace were also in the same three languages. Announcements from the platform were likewise made in those three languages. The literature on the book counters was in many more languages. Though many Polish brothers now understand French, special meetings in Polish were held Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. till noon, and the attendance ran up to 577 Saturday morning.
Besides providing for the spiritual needs, the convention committee provided an ample cafeteria toward the rear of the flower-adorned platform, where substantial meal vivified conventioners at regular intervals, being conveniently served from many assembly-line food counters. Here, too, as at all the preceding “Triumphant Kingdom” assemblies, a fine large orchestra guided and gave stimulus to hearty singing of Kingdom songs. While the majority were singing in French, many visiting delegates sang in English.
For the official opening of the assembly the 9,701 who attended thronged the building, filling the ground-floor arena in front of the platform and sitting on the tiers of seats on the sides of the bowl, some even being in the top gallery away up above. In this velodrome they were watching not a bicycle race but the runners in the race for the prize of life eternal in Jehovah’s new world. Among those runners were fourteen from dictator-ruled Portugal, many from Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and also about thirty-five from Spain under Franco’s regime. These brothers are acquainted with dictatorships under which full religious privileges are granted to only the Roman Catholic Church and so here, at this magnificent free assembly in Paris, they were deeply stirred. Tears welled up in Spanish eyes at seeing for the first time such a crowd of their brothers, Jehovah’s witnesses, thousands upon thousands of them, in open assembly and without fear of police. What if they could not understand the languages of the platform speeches! Just the same, they felt great joy at being among their brothers, the one big family of God, Jehovah. They marveled and thrilled at the freedom that they witnessed as their brothers moved about on the streets of Paris openly identifying themselves with lapel badges as Jehovah’s witnesses, advertising the assembly and its public talk, and passing out literature and preaching the message from door to door without hindrance. Filled they were with many vivid impressions to tell upon their return to their brothers at home under dictatorship!
Most of the speakers from North America spoke in English and their talks from the platform were translated into French by competent interpreters. French speakers on the program presented their talks with the same fervor and vigor as those who spoke in English. The Paris branch servant gave the address of welcome in French. Brother Knorr, the president, gave his opening talk tonight on “The Triumphant Message of ‘The Kingdom,’” and at its close he released the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind? in French. The reaction of the audience was very joyful.
From 1:20 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. five special trains took many visiting delegates to Rome, which, of course, affected the attendance at Paris. The great mass movement of delegates through the Continent from convention to convention by all the complicated prearrangements skillfully made by the New York headquarters of the Watch Tower Society was now under way. It was an invasion of theocratic warriors from abroad, unparalleled in any age of earth. Concerning this the August 5 European edition of the paper The Stars and Stripes, published at Darmstadt, Germany, for the U.S. armed forces, said on its page 3:
“PARIS, Aug. 4 (AP)—More than 4,000 perspiring Jehovah’s Witnesses from every state in the union flocked to a garish Paris sports arena for an afternoon of sermons yesterday [Wednesday], then grabbed their bags for the next stop on their tour of Western Europe. Members of the pacifist sect, each wearing a red and yellow tag proclaiming ‘The Coming Conquest of the World by the Kingdom of God,’ make up what is probably the biggest mass movement of Americans through Europe since the Allied invasion during World War II.”
From Rome five special trains later took thousands of conventioners to cities in Switzerland. The edition of Wednesday, August 10, of the Berne Daily (Berner Tagblatt) published a picture of delegates arriving there and headed the accompanying article “Invasion in Berne: 2000 Witnesses of Jehovah.” The article went on to say: “Swiss Berne experienced during two days the invasion of more than 2000 witnesses of Jehovah, predominantly from the United States. The people of all shades of color with the pinned-on little placard ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ dominated for a time the street scene and especially the numerous ‘colored’ ladies of every age and build attracted prolonged looks at themselves. Far more than 4000 witnesses—of whom some hundreds stopped in Zurich and Geneva—traveled in two special ships and 42 special airplanes from the States to Europe, to go here from convention to convention, beginning in London, then in Paris.”
The second day of the Paris convention featured the president twice on the program, and after his evening talk against spiritism he surprised and delighted his audience with the presentation of the booklet Basis for Belief in a New World in French. The following morning he had to fly to Italy to climax the opening day of the three-day international assembly at Rome.
At Paris Friday morning, in the Sports Palace, 774 candidates answered with a firm “Oui!” to the questions put to them by the French speaker on baptism. They were then transported fifteen kilometers out from the Palace to Ville de Chatenay-Malabry, where they were immersed in the Piscine Municipale, an indoor pool, before many witnesses. An eight-year-old boy and an eighty-three-year-old lady were among those baptized. Even a blind woman braved the waters in Jehovah’s strength. Two former spiritists were baptized; this man and his wife greatly appreciated Brother Knorr’s talk last night against demonism, alias spiritualism.
Saturday night Brother Knorr returned by air from Rome to Paris and was on hand to give three speeches on Sunday. There was a grand turnout of Parisians to hear his widely advertised public talk, for the attendance at the Sports Palace soared up to 16,500 persons, who fairly overflowed the assembly place. Highly pleased, too, was Brother Knorr on seeing the lively responsiveness of this audience and he felt great joy at releasing to them the booklet World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom in French. The record attendance had been realized and the foreign brothers rejoiced along with their French brothers. Enemies were frightened; and, as has been its custom after large gatherings of the New World society, a local French Roman Catholic newspaper published a lengthy article against Jehovah’s witnesses, misrepresenting them as predicting that the world was to end August 21. One of France’s most widely heard radio stations made a broadcast about our assembly. It fixed for us the date of the world’s end at August 21, 1955. Also on the station’s own initiative it added in that broadcast that Jehovah’s witnesses had already announced the world’s end 427 times without success. Thus this sensational “date” made the rounds of numerous dailies of Europe, including one in Lisbon, Portugal, and not leaving out one in Lausanne, Switzerland. The August 11 edition of the French Feuille D’Avis of Lausanne published a lengthy refutation of this misrepresentation on its page 19.
Jehovah’s witnesses in France came away from their successful assembly determined to push ahead with their work until Armageddon breaks out at an hour and a day known not to any man but only to God and his Christ. In consequence of the assembly at Paris the number of active Kingdom publishers should soon be reaching a new peak of over 10,000 for all France.
ROME, ITALY, AUGUST 5-7, 1955
All Italy took note of the first international assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Rome, August 5-7. The enemies first attacked, with some injuries, but later they turned to ridiculing. One section of the Italian press, while graciously announcing the assembly in Rome, claimed that the date of this assembly had suddenly been advanced in view of the extreme nearness of the end of the world. The effect of this ridicule, however, was only to advertise Jehovah’s witnesses and to focus more public attention on their Rome assembly.
The location of the assembly was enough to excite public attention; it was the Palazzo dei Congressi dell’ Esposizione Universale di Roma (Palace of Conventions of the Universal Exposition of Rome). The Protestant sects in Italy were stupefied at what Jehovah’s witnesses were doing. They asked: “How did Jehovah’s witnesses get the Palazzo?” This building owned by the Italian government was one of numerous Exposition buildings constructed by the late Fascist duce Mussolini, meant by him for the World’s Fair of 1942. Left unfinished by him, it was finally modernized and readied for use at a cost of two million dollars. It is an edifice of commanding appearance, surmounted by a sort of squared dome and with a façade of fourteen tall pillars fronted by a spacious, sloping, tesselated pavement with grooves between its angular stones. All in all, very impressive! It contains a beautiful large convention hall, with natural lighting; also smaller halls and many conference rooms. Inside and outside it presents a neat, trim, clean appearance. Standing atop a hill, it can be seen from other distant heights of Rome. It is situated to the southeast of Vatican City on the other side of the Tiber River.
Jehovah’s witnesses contracted to have the exclusive use of the Palazzo for their assembly. Suddenly, on July 18, the permission to occupy the building was revoked by the prime minister’s office, with the assembly’s scheduled opening just eighteen days ahead. All inquiry as to why brought no explanation. The manager and others in his office agreed that one single source of influence, very high up, had exerted pressure to have the engagement for the Palazzo canceled. Three days followed with feverish search for a new hall—theaters, racetracks, stadiums, etc.—with very poor results. When the brothers were about at the end of hope, a telephone call came to the Watch Tower Society’s Rome branch office: “Cabinet reconsiders and will let you have the building as at first contracted!”
Evidently other pressures had begun to exert themselves. Indeed, the hand of Jehovah God itself was not shortened. Finally the cabinet of the national government of Italy had met, deliberated and had come forth with this decision that Jehovah’s witnesses should, after all, be permitted to use the Palazzo according to the original agreement.
So in ample time Jehovah’s witnesses moved in and set up their departments of convention services, using many of the conference rooms. For the first time the Palazzo electrician had to wire up the edifice so extensively, at our cost, to transmit the convention proceedings to halls, corridors and various other quarters of the great structure. A thousand dollars was expended for renting chairs for the expected crowd.
It is not allowed for non-Roman Catholic religious organizations to hold public demonstrations and to advertise public meetings and invite people in general to any event. So 1,000 personal letters of invitation were sent out to persons known to be interested or friendly. There were no handbills for free distribution, yet there were thousands of personal invitations directly by word of mouth, and the Society’s magazines The Watchtower and Awake! carried notices of the Rome assembly in many languages throughout the earth. Not to be ignored, either, is the great public demonstration that the conventioners themselves put on by wearing, right here in Rome just as at all other assembly cities, the miniature-placard badges on coat lapel or shirtwaist. These badges announcing the assembly and its public meeting provoked great curiosity and inquiry that called for an answer by the wearer, who took advantage of this opening to give a witness and invitation. This demonstration even invaded Vatican City as the sight-seeing, badge-wearing conventioners by hundreds went through its buildings open to the general public.
The printed convention program gave “Information for Conventioners” in Italian and English, indicating also which lectures were to be in English and interpreted in Italian.
Friday morning, August 5, the assembly in the sumptuous Palazzo dei Congressi was officially opened with an address of welcome by the convention chairman, a representative of the Watch Tower Society; and to the special joy of the native Italians present he released for the first time the magazine Awake! in their own language, telling them it would appear twice a month from then on. This opening day was crowned by the final speech at night, given by the Society’s president who had flown there that day from the Paris assembly. For the Italian brothers it was a supreme moment when, through an interpreter, Brother Knorr finished discussing “The Triumphant Message of ‘The Kingdom’” and announced, holding it aloft, the new book in Italian, “New Heavens and a New Earth”. The crowd there astonished the news reporters. The 4,200 in attendance packed out the beautiful, double-balconied main hall. For the first time this had occurred in the Palazzo. Convention crowds of that size are unusual in Italy. Release followed upon release in Italian. At the conclusion of his talk Saturday morning on “Jehovah Is in His Holy Temple,” the president presented a new Italian publication, the 32-page booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom”. Shortly after he left Rome by air to return to Paris the Society’s vice-president arrived by plane from Paris, to take up where the president had left off. That night after the closing speech to 2,859 he displayed the 64-page booklet Basis for Belief in a New World as another Italian newcomer.
Another notable event: 378 candidates presented themselves at the baptismal talk this afternoon and were thereafter quietly baptized, to create no public spectacle. Nine buses were used to transport them to the distant baptismal site.
A number of Roman Catholic priests and nuns in their religious garb tried to “crash the gates” but were told by the doorkeepers that this was a private meeting and was only for the invited. The invited were truly an international gathering from twenty-eight countries and islands, the Philippine Islands, Cyprus, the British Isles, etc. About 150 came up from Sicily, and the delegation of native Italians included not just men but also women. Many of the Italian brothers are quite poor under the prevailing circumstances. To bring children along to the assembly could not be afforded; so these had to be left at home and one member of the family was sent as a representative. Some seemed to be living just on bread as their solid food, which they brought with them. Some packed their suitcases not with clothes but with bread and cheese and with windfall olives, to live on at the three-day assembly. During those days the brothers ate 3,882 meals; 818 free meals were served at the cafeteria to pioneers. Pleasant it was to see many brothers eating box lunches while sitting out under trees of the parklike grounds. Roomless, some slept on park benches, but not on the Universal Exposition grounds; sleeping there was charged for. Quite a number of German-speaking brothers camped on the Exposition tenting grounds. There were 3,741 rooming accommodations for the foreign delegates, 2,750 for Italian brothers. Seventy brothers slept under the stars.
In Rome it is better to hold the principal meeting in the morning than in the afternoon. So the Sunday lecture on “World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom” was programmed at 10:30 a.m. The day was sunshiny. The main hall of the Palazzo and its two balconies were filled with 2,700, hundreds of others were in the adjacent auditorium, while others sat on chairs and benches in the corridors and in the elegant lobby, listening by loud-speakers. The total attendance numbered 4,351, the majority of them being Italians. Clear through the talk by the vice-president (through an interpreter) that eager audience in Christendom’s religious capital were very responsive, somewhat galvanized by the force of the situation and circumstances, and with loud joy they received the new Italian booklet containing the full, unexpurgated text of this challenging public lecture, under Jehovah’s imprimatur and with the nihil obstat of Jesus Christ.
That afternoon the program was resumed and many stayed until the closing remarks and packed out the main auditorium once more. Again and again they gave vent to their gladness at the report on the series of international conventions thus far and the account of expansion operations and activities of Jehovah’s visible organization. At the finale of the assembly a number were seen to be weeping with emotion. Said one conventioner from Switzerland: “My heart aches from happiness.”
Eleven startled newspapers carried reports about the assembly, and there were seventeen editions. Up till Sunday morning there had been seven meters in the news columns. The Italian people were stirred by this international assembly, and they especially appreciated the attendance of the many foreign brothers. Many return-visit references were handed in to the full-time pioneer publishers. The assembly toned them up for the entire month. Summer months are generally poor in Italy as far as field activity is concerned, and the month of August has always registered the poorest report of active publishers. In the April campaign with the booklet Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? there was a new maximum number of 3,238 publishers reporting, a 37 percent increase. But in July, in anticipation of the international assembly, there was a participation by 2,948, a 25 percent increase in publishers. In the assembly month of August there was participation by 3,044, a 29 percent increase. The usual slump had been broken. For the first time the August report of publishers went up in a fine flourish for the close of the 1955 service year. Early progress is looked for in the 1956 service year and it is expected to reach the mark of 4,000 publishers for all Italy soon.
After the assembly the brothers began sending special copies of the booklet Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? to the clergy of all denominations and religious editors for their notification and their comment. Quite a few letters have been received from the clergy. Almost all of them were insulting expressions; two were found on the favorable side. One was received written by the hand of the sixty-four-year old Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro, archbishop of Bologna, a noted social worker, who is cited as one of the best prospects for the next pope. His letter of acknowledgment was not an abusive one, but at least took note of Jehovah’s witnesses. It is up to the witnesses in Italy to exemplify the true Christianity to Jehovah’s glory and to the ingathering of all his other sheep there under his one Shepherd, Christ Jesus.